A Pathetic Slap from a Lying Bully

Update: As if to prove my point, below, a ver­i­ta­ble cav­al­cade of angry, anony­mous com­menters flood­ed this site’s com­ments sec­tion, forc­ing me to shut them down for the fore­see­able future. To my fel­low jour­nal­ists — every time you laud Green­wald’s jour­nal­ism, please con­sid­er the hor­rif­ic dam­age he is doing to free speech and dis­course through his reck­less and uneth­i­cal con­duct. The orig­i­nal post con­tin­ues below.


Today Glenn Green­wald twit­ter-linked to a blog­post claim­ing to raise “trou­bling ques­tions” about my past as a defense con­trac­tor. (Nat­u­ral­ly it was mir­rored by Wik­ileaks, since Green­wald is the only human they fol­low on Twit­ter). The clear impli­ca­tion is that this past is why I fact-check the many false­hoods, omis­sions, and half-truths being print­ed as fact in our ever-widen­ing debate about sur­veil­lance, nation­al secu­ri­ty, and pri­va­cy. Worse still: the rumor is that I not only have these finan­cial inter­ests, I don’t dis­close them to my read­ers when writ­ing about nation­al secu­ri­ty. In this for­mu­la­tion, I am there­fore either a hyp­ocrite, an unre­li­able source for analy­sis, or a lying mon­ster (it has var­ied).

Let’s ignore the obvi­ous­ly ad hominem nature of this crit­i­cism and set­tle the facts first: none of that is true. To be more blunt: it is a lie. I have not received a pen­ny from the U.S. gov­ern­ment since leav­ing my job as a con­trac­tor on Jan­u­ary 5, 2010. Since leav­ing my think tank in Feb­ru­ary, I have tried to gen­er­ate income by writ­ing free­lance — this has often tak­en the form of writ­ing arti­cles for var­i­ous pub­li­ca­tions; it has some­times tak­en the form of doing research for var­i­ous think tanks and orga­ni­za­tions around Wash­ing­ton, DC (you can see one such paper, an analy­sis of the Depart­ment of Jus­tice’s Office of Legal Coun­sel white paper on the tar­get­ed killing of Amer­i­can cit­i­zens, here). I had hopes that I might be able to secure some sub­con­trac­tu­al jobs doing iden­ti­cal work for the U.S. gov­ern­ment, but alas — I nev­er did. Such is the life when you are in busi­ness for your­self: you have to behave like a busi­ness and seek pay­ing work to remain sol­vent.

Even so, the sin­gle line on my LinkedIn pro­file (since removed) that I am avail­able to con­sult for “gov­ern­ment enti­ties” prompt­ed sev­er­al peo­ple on twit­ter to sug­gest that every­thing I write is due to hav­ing a finan­cial stake in the so-called “nation­al secu­ri­ty state.” It is a famil­iar slur, one Glenn Green­wald in par­tic­u­lar is fond of pro­mul­gat­ing against those with whom he dis­agrees (there are many exam­ples of him doing so at the Dai­ly Ban­ter). In the log­i­cal uni­verse Green­wald has con­struct­ed for his fan­base, any dis­agree­ment is evi­dence of men­dac­i­ty — an issue many who have dis­agreed with his analy­sis have come to real­ize, often to their last­ing regret.

This prob­lem is com­pound­ed by the nature of Green­wald’s avid fans. Not only is he the source of abu­sive lan­guage, but when­ev­er he tweets or casu­al­ly men­tions a pub­lic fig­ure in a den­i­grat­ing way dozens of ran­dom, low-fol­low­er twit­ter accounts emerge from the dark recess­es of the inter­webs to heap vicious per­son­al scorn, ver­bal abuse, obscen­i­ty, homo­pho­bia, and even death threats upon the hap­less vic­tim (I have expe­ri­enced all of these in just the last twen­ty-four hours). Thus, when Green­wald pas­sive-aggres­sive­ly sug­gests that some­one “needs to write this up into a coher­ent whole,” it’s dif­fi­cult to take as any­thing oth­er than a threat.


Look, I did work with the U.S. gov­ern­ment — for sev­er­al years. This is nei­ther hid­den nor secret­ed away. It is open­ly stat­ed on my biog­ra­phy page here, and on the “pre­vi­ous work” sec­tion of my LinkedIn pro­file. Not only do I not try to hide this infor­ma­tion, I active­ly trade on it. The rea­son I am giv­en cred­i­bil­i­ty to dis­cuss nation­al secu­ri­ty issues in the pub­lic sphere is because I am open about my old employ­ment as a senior intel­li­gence ana­lyst for the dread­ed nation­al secu­ri­ty state. I built my cur­rent career on that, in fact. So the nasty lit­tle slan­der that I some­how hide this fact from any­one is just that — a nasty lit­tle slur.

Green­wald in par­tic­u­lar should know bet­ter. He tried this gam­bit once before, in 2010. Then, as the Wik­ileaks scan­dal was just crest­ing, he wrote a nasty lit­tle mul­ti-thou­sand-word screed where he accused me of being a “roy­al court hang­er-on” for the mil­i­tary, among oth­er sup­posed crimes. Then, as now, it was a need­less, vicious slur (I respond­ed in full at the time).

What makes any tiff with Green­wald so exhaust­ing is not just the need­less­ly per­son­al nature of his attacks, but rather his out­right lies. That’s cor­rect: Glenn Green­wald is a ser­i­al liar. He is patho­log­i­cal about it. And he pre­tends like peo­ple are too dumb to notice. He did this in 2010. On the morn­ing of Novem­ber 30, 2010, he tweet­ed this about me:



Notice the famil­iar slan­der, that I had undis­closed con­tracts? It was­n’t true at the time — I even wrote in the New York Times that I worked at a defense con­trac­tor! — he “dis­cov­ered” my “undis­closed” ties by look­ing at… my LinkedIn pro­file. But, almost casu­al­ly, he lied about it just a few hours lat­er.


For rea­sons that escape me, very few peo­ple like to grap­ple with the casu­al way Glenn Green­wald lies, almost con­stant­ly. He lied about me again, ear­li­er this year, when he false­ly accused me of sup­port­ing the wars in Libya and Mali.


Like so many of Green­wald’s lies, this one is not just wrong it is hilar­i­ous­ly wrong, con­sid­er­ing the tens of thou­sand of words I wrote in oppo­si­tion to the inter­ven­tion in Libya. It was com­plete­ly point­less. I demand­ed a retrac­tion from Green­wald, and he refused. He chose to stand by his lies.

Because he is not only a patho­log­i­cal liar but also a bul­ly, very few in the pub­lic sphere ever want to stand up for him. In fact, more than one jour­nal­ist has writ­ten me a pri­vate note of encour­age­ment in stand­ing up to Green­wald, because for them the pro­fes­sion­al con­se­quences of fight­ing off his bulling fol­low­ers and rebut­ting all of his lazy lies are sim­ple too over­whelm­ing. So he is allowed to con­tin­ue lying and bul­ly­ing peo­ple with­out recourse.

The con­se­quences of this allowance are aston­ish­ing. When his part­ner, David Miran­da, was detained on Sun­day by the author­i­ties at Heathrow Air­port, Green­wald was in fine form express­ing out­rage. Here, too, he sim­ply lied — open­ly. Green­wald wrote that Miran­da was “not allowed to have a lawyer present,” and por­trayed his deten­tion as the base­less harass­ment of a fam­i­ly mem­ber.

In short order it emerged that Miran­da’s trip was actu­al­ly fund­ed by the Guardian, and his spe­cif­ic pur­pose was to car­ry top secret gov­ern­ment files between Rio de Janeiro and Berlin to Lau­ra Poitras, the film­mak­er who is col­lab­o­rat­ing with Green­wald on his NSA sto­ries. More­over, the Guardian lat­er report­ed that Miran­da was: a) offered legal rep­re­sen­ta­tion in accor­dance with British law, an offer Miran­da reject­ed; and b) allowed to have a lawyer present for the last 90 min­utes of his deten­tion.

There is no oth­er way to describe Glenn Green­wald’s ini­tial reac­tion: it was know­ing­ly, delib­er­ate­ly, false. Yet again, he lied. But the dam­age was already done. Hordes of angry twit­ter fol­low­ers flood­ed the inter­nets to angri­ly dis­pute any devi­a­tion from his orig­i­nal lies about the inci­dent, shout­ing down all who dared to point out the very sim­ple truth that he lied. Again.

This is why I take his threats, casu­al slurs, and obfus­ca­tions so seri­ous­ly. It is not the harm­less game of some­one with a loud mouth. Glenn Green­wald’s lies have seri­ous con­se­quences. At this point, his con­stant lying is affect­ing not only the peo­ple he lies about, but is con­tribut­ing to a tremen­dous self-cen­sor­ship by those who see his lies and want to rebut them but are ter­ri­fied of his swarm of bul­lies ruin­ing their days or their lives.

It is inex­plic­a­ble that so few have ever called him out by name for such deplorable, uneth­i­cal behav­ior. So I am doing it as plain­ly as I pos­si­bly can. Glenn Green­wald is a ser­i­al liar. He is a bul­ly. And he has no busi­ness being tak­en seri­ous­ly ever again.

P.S. While we’re on the sub­ject of secret, undis­closed ties to the gov­ern­ment, let’s revis­it the time­line of events in Miran­da’s deten­tion at Heathrow. By his own admis­sion, Green­wald was able to mobi­lize both Brazil’s for­eign min­is­ter and Lon­don ambas­sador. Did any­one find it remark­able that a for­eign jour­nal­ist could mar­shall the senior offi­cials of a 200 mil­lion per­son coun­try on less than an hour’s notice? I did. I also found it remark­able how Green­wald — an out­spo­ken defend­er of jour­nal­ism, and a vocal crit­ic of any attempt to inter­fere with jour­nal­ism — was absolute­ly silent about Brazil’s mas­sive protest move­ment that result­ed in the ram­pant mis­treat­ment (and deaths) of the jour­nal­ists cov­er­ing it. In fact, mur­der­ing jour­nal­ists is depress­ing­ly rou­tine in Brazil. It hap­pens all the time.

In fact, Brazil, where Green­wald says he lives because he can be free there, is actu­al­ly famous for its incred­i­bly vio­lent police force, espe­cial­ly if you hap­pen to be poor and liv­ing in a slum of his adopt­ed home­town of Rio de Janeiro.

I can’t fath­om why Green­wald, who relies on the good graces of Brasil­ia to live with his part­ner and con­tin­ue writ­ing, would ignore such appalling gov­ern­ment vio­lence while shriek­ing at the top of his lungs about Amer­i­can sur­veil­lance (please, for the love of God, Glenn, don’t write about Brazil’s mas­sive domes­tic sur­veil­lance appa­ra­tus, the pro­lif­er­a­tion of pri­vate mil­i­taries, or its grow­ing use of drones to squash protests). It’s a total mys­tery, right?

Maybe I should add “hyp­ocrite” to the top of this post.

Joshua Foust used to be a foreign policy maven. Now he helps organizations communicate strategically and build audiences.